LS polls: UP's Awadh to see several high-pitched battles; fortunes of Rahul Gandhi, Rajnath Singh to be decided
The Awadh region, which has given India three prime ministers in the past, will be the most keenly-watched part of Uttar Pradesh.
The historically important Awadh region can be regarded as the heartland of Uttar Pradesh politics.
The Awadh region has given India three prime ministers in the past.
The 'VIP' constituencies in the region are Amethi, Raebareli, Lucknow and Sultanpur
If Uttar Pradesh is the heartland of Indian politics, then the historically important Awadh region can be regarded as the heartland of Uttar Pradesh politics. Comprising 17 Lok Sabha constituencies, including a few high-profile seats, Awadh is undoubtedly a high-stakes political arena.
This region, which has given India three prime ministers — Indira Gandhi, whose parliamentary constituency was Raebareli, VP Singh, who fought from Fatehpur and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who represented Lucknow — will be the most keenly-watched part of Uttar Pradesh. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had managed to win 15 out of 17 seats here. At Bahraich, Savitri Bai Phule had won on a BJP ticket, but has now crossed over the Congress. This time, the fight in the Awadh region is a multi-cornered one, and it will not be easy for the saffron party to retain all the seats.
Awadh has a population of about 3.22 crore. The constituencies in this region are Kheri, Sitapur, Lucknow, Faizabad (now Ayodhya), Raebareli, Amethi, Barabanki, Dhaurahra, Misrikh, Sultanpur, Hardoi, Bahriach, Kaiserganj, Shravasti, Gonda, Ambedkarnagar, and Mohanlalganj. Out of the 17 seats, five are reserved for Scheduled Castes.
Amethi, Lucknow to be in the limelight
The "VIP" constituencies in the Awadh region are Lucknow, which is currently held by Union home minister Rajnath Singh, Raebareli, which is held by Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi, Amethi, represented by her son Rahul Gandhi, and Sultanpur represented by Varun Gandhi.
With the BJP announcing the candidature of Union minister Smriti Irani against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, this Lok Sabha constituency is set to witness an interesting fight as the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to defeat the Congress president. In Lucknow, the buzz is that senior Congress leader Jitin Prasada may contest against Rajnath Singh, instead of his home turf Dhaurahra. Lucknow is the bastion of BJP and earlier former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used to contest from this seat.
The SP-BSP alliance, Congress and BJP have all been giving a lot of emphasis to this region. The Congress’ eastern Uttar Pradesh in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra recently paid a visit to the temple town of Ayodhya, her brother's parliamentary constituency Amethi and even her mother's turf Raebareli.
Will the gathbandhan make a difference?
Samajwadi Party (SP) spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi also stresses on the importance of the Awadh region in the party's political strategy. “The Dalits, backwards, other marginalised communities, minorities, poor people, farmers, labourers and women are waiting eagerly to vote out the BJP in 2019. The BJP-led governments at the Centre and the state have not been able to fulfil their promises,” he said.
On the SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan (alliance), he said the historic move has changed every political arithmetic throughout Uttar Pradesh. He is confident that the alliance is unbeatable in 60 seats, while in the remaining ones, they will "give nightmares" to the BJP.
“This time, we are going to win even those seats which we never won earlier,” predicts the SP leader.
The gathbandhan's main focus areas are doubling of farmers' income, providing employment to youth, women's security, quality education and healthcare facilities for the masses.
Congress leader Mukesh Singh admits that the Awadh region has become important to the party once again, because it is a war of survival, and an attempt to prove what the party stands for. He said that in the past, political parties would respect each other, and not field candidates on prestigious seats like Amethi or Lucknow.
He said that the Congress has left a few seats for the gathbandhan parties and in return, they have also opted to not field their candidates from Amethi and Raebareli seats. “On the other hand, the BJP is using all its force in Amethi, and it is going to lose again,” Singh said. The Congress leader added that the Awadh region is home to farmers who have become 'chowkidar' in their own fields, protecting their crops from stray cattle.
Political commentator JP Shukla points out that as the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow is the power centre for not just the state government, but also political parties. "Awadh region is the heart of Uttar Pradesh and this region has brought a change in national politics. The controversy over the Ram temple dispute comes from this region, and it is a very important political issue. The issue has affected the politics of India for many decades. The Ram temple issue was above all other issues in the last election, and it helped the BJP to make its government at the Centre," Shukla opines.
Shukla argues that the politics of Awadh is emulated everywhere in the country because the region has a rare mix of urban and rural constituencies. He also says that the region assumes importance as many politically significant constituencies like Amethi and Dhaurahra are located here.
Lucknow-based political analyst Dr Rudra Dubey says that the Awadh region is a high-stakes area mainly for the Congress and the BJP, because Amethi and Raebareli constituencies are family strongholds of the Congress, while Lucknow has been the parliamentary constituency of late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
"In Awadh, it is a challenge for the two major parties to preserve their decades-old heritage, and for this, they are going full throttle,” says Dubey.
Dubey further says that the BJP finds itself on shaky waters in constituencies like Bahraich, where sitting MP Savitri Bai Phule has joined the Congress. “On the other hand, Congress has also felt a silent tremor with the BJP fielding Smriti Irani against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi,” he notes.
There is still uncertainty over which constituency Jitin Prasada will contest from. Dubey says, "The contest in Lucknow will be against Rajnath Singh, who has been a regular visitor to his constituency. People will also vote for him motivated by sympathy after the death of former prime minister Vajpayee, as Rajnath has worked to save his legacy in Lucknow."
He further points out that in Ayodhya, the BJP has been doing a lot of ground work after forming the government in the state. The success of the 'Deepotsav' and changing the name of Faizabad to Ayodhya will help the BJP in the seat, according to Dubey.
“On seats like Unnao, the BJP has decided against taking risks, and has fielded Sakshi Maharaj as it believes he is a winnable candidate," he says.
However, Dubey believes that this time, people in Awadh may now vote on the basis of issues like jobs, stray cattle, farm crisis, etc. “The other major challenge for political parties will be wooing different castes, as this region has numerous communities, including Jatavs, Yadavs, Muslim and Nishads," he remarks.
(The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)
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